Change is afoot at Penn State.
Believe it or not, Joe Paterno has publicly lauded two of his freshmen this summer, something he has preferred not to do during his previous 39 years coaching the Nittany Lions. He admits times have changed and kids are now more prepared for big-time college football after enduring high-profile recruitments that involve, among other pleasantries, their teenage lives being dissected by zany Internet message board loyalists. That certainly applies to freshmen Derrick Williams, the wide receiver-return man, and Justin King, a defensive back, two of the nation's finest recruits who could figure prominently into Penn State's resurgence this season.
Four losing seasons in the past five years have taken the luster off Paterno's final years at Penn State, if the career of the 78-year-old coach is in fact nearing a finale. He won't admit as much. If Paterno, who has 343 career victories, is to have another winning season, this could be his best opportunity. Nine starters return on a defense that did not allow more than 21 points in any game last season. The offense will be bolstered by the presence of the former Eleanor Roosevelt star Williams, and it can't be much worse -- remember the 6-4 loss to Iowa?
Paterno still loves to coach. He walks six miles some days. He still can function on five hours sleep. And he wakes up to pop in game tape of South Florida, Penn State's first opponent.
"If you said to me, take everything else out of my life," Paterno said at Big Ten media day. "All the problems, personal problems. . . . I'm a football coach. I could coach 10 more years."